Lowbury Hill mystery

The work of two of our PhD students concerning the mystery surrounding the remains of two Early Medieval persons buried at Lowbury Hill, Oxfordshire, has come to public prominence this month as we prepare for a full osteological analysis of their remains.  The Lowbury duo were discovered by Donald Atkinson, a research fellow from Reading’s Classics Department, in his 1913-14 excavations at the site, which inspired the Ure Museum’s curator Annie Ure, then a student. The pair—a woman and a man—were then displayed together in a two-part glass case in University College Reading’s Museum of History and Archaeology, a precursor to the Ure Museum.  Since the 1920s their remains fell into obscurity. Subsequent analysis of the male, discovered within an Early Medieval barrow, suggests he was a seventh-century warrior who lived in Cornwall or western Ireland before being buried on Lowbury Hill. Since 2017 his remains, along with his elaborate grave goods—including a sword, shield, enamelled spearhead, knife, shears, a bronze hanging bowl and a bone comb—have been on display at the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock. Remains of the woman, who had been buried in line with the wall of a Roman-era enclosure on the hilltop, are normally stored in Standlake. A partial analysis suggests she reached the age of ca. 40 and was buried between 550 to 650 AD. Because she was buried without grave items, little else is known about her.

The Oxfordshire County Council has announced the removal of the male from their museum, in preparation for Summer Courts’ osteological analysis of both individuals, to be undertaken at the Cranfield Forensics Institute, under the supervision of Dr Sophie Beckett, one of her PhD supervisors. Her research is co-supervised by Reading’s Professor Amy Smith and Angie Bolton (Oxfordshire Museum Service) and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council via the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership Collaborative Doctoral Award. Then the team will send samples to Germany for analysis in collaboration with Professor Stephan Schiffels at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Look for another press release in the coming days as Summer begins her analysis.

At the same time the local community has now become interested in the project through a display at the Goring Public Library, accompanied by a series of public events. Seongmee Yoon, another one of our PhD students, co-supervised by Prof. Smith and Dr Rhi Smith (Museum Studies, UoR), has taken this opportunity to study public perceptions of the site, the mysterious duo, and Anglo-Saxons, as part of her museological research. The entire team enjoyed the hospitality of Goring’s Catholic Church this Wednesday night when a sold-out audience heard presentations by Summer and Angie, followed by a poetry reading by Amy. As Summer said, “The study has given us the chance to explore a fascinating site with a thrilling history while applying several archaeological approaches and working with an invested and excited local community.”

More information on the research can be found at the project website: research.reading.ac.uk/mymerian

Prof. Rosalind Thomas delivers the 12th Annual Percy N. Ure Lecture

The Department of Classics at Reading is delighted to welcome Prof. Rosalind Thomas to deliver its 12th Annual Ure Lecture. For this annual lecture, which celebrates the work of our first Professor of Classics, Prof. Percy N. Ure, we invite a preeminent scholar to deliver a public address on a topic of relevance to Percy Ure’s wide range of academic interests. This year Prof. Rosalind Thomas – Professor of Greek History, Dyson-Macgregor Fellow, Jowett Lecturer and Tutor in Ancient History at Balliol College, Oxford University – will deliver a talk entitled ‘Polycrates assigns a mother’: Greek Tyranny in proverb, collective memory and the local ‘polis histories’. The Greek tyrannies of the archaic period were the stuff of legend and folktale (or at least that dominates our literary sources), combined with narratives about their downfall fostered by the anti-tyrant feelings of later generations. Polycrates, tyrant of Samos (late 6th c.) was remembered through particularly vivid and colourful tales, vignettes and proverbs (as in the title), through which others were associated with cruelty and indulgent excess. It is hard to understand the social, political or economic impetus behind such tyrannies (Ure offered one famous theory), or to match the magnificence and building projects with the accounts later Greeks wanted to tell about them. This paper examines some of the most interesting accounts in the later ‘polis histories’ of their own local tyrant(s), and – with an eye to Herodotus and other comparisons – asks whether tyrants were an embarrassment or a paradoxical source of price generations later. It also examines what these later accounts might reveal about the collective memories of their archaic past, if not the archaic reality.

The lecture will start be at 4pm on 25th January, in the Van Emden Theatre in the Edith Morley building, on the University of Reading Campus. All are welcome to join us for this public lecture but please register  in advance at https://www.store.reading.ac.uk/conferences-and-events/faculty-of-arts-humanities-social-science/dept-of-classics/12th-annual-percy-ure-lecture. For any further questions, please contact Prof. Amy C. Smith, Joint Head of Department.

New exhibition: Black African Authors in the Roman Empire

In celebration of Black History Month we are delighted to announce the launch of a physical exhibition in the Classics Department hallway (pictured below). Reading University’s Classics Department is committed to decolonising the curriculum and challenging our preconceptions of the non-white world. Our students Chloe Gardner (BA Hons. 2021) and Edward Gregory (current 3rd-year undergraduate) created an online exhibit about Black African Authors in the Roman Empire in the wake of the University’s launch of its Race Equality Review on 24 May 2021. COVID-19 restrictions did not permit a physical exhibit at that time so we have re-animated this project here.

BHThe three authors featured here are ancient African writers: Tertullian, a Berber; Terence, a Libyan; and Apuleius, a Numidian. These authors wrote broadly and across different genres, but each touched on the experiences of their people, even if in a satirical manner.

TertullianThroughout history, black and African voices have been silenced systematically to forge a narrative of white supremacy. By casting Western-minority groups as savage or uneducated natives, collective memory now recalls groups of people subdued and modernized by the West. Traditional practices regarding research and interpretation in the Classics discipline tend to reaffirm and strengthen the misconceptions associated with this flawed and dangerous narrative. The field of Classics has been dominated by white, male voices. Through telling stories relatable to them they created an echo chamber of information on the classical world. Perpetuating the idea of a white-washed ancient past is harmful, however, to all. In ignoring data and evidence for a society that was far more influenced by the East and South than was sometimes thought, Westerners have lost or hidden a wealth of knowledge, understanding and answers.

To read more about each of these north African authors and a suggested bibliography see our online exhibition at research.reading.ac.uk/curiosi/black-history.

Professor Smith visits the Antipodes

During August 2022 Professor Amy Smith served as R.D. Milns Visiting Professor at University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia. Since Australia’s seasons are the opposite of ours, August is a great time of year to find hives of academic energy in antipodean Universities. Queensland’s early Spring feels like a comfortable Reading Summer: Amy’s hosts did a good job of getting her to meet the local flora & fauna and enjoy the watersports!

Classics at Queensland is part of a larger School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, just as we at Reading join with historians and philosophers in a School of Humanities. At Queensland, however, these postgraduates have an open plan work area that includes a kitchen and is surrounded by their teachers’ offices, one of which Amy was allocated during her short stay. And just as we have our Ure Museum, UQ Classics benefits from its own museum, named in honour of Prof. R.D. (Bob) Milns. On her first few days, therefore, Prof. Smith explored the Museum’s immense collection of fragments and spoke to the students—UQ’s Classical Society—about ‘Disiecta Membra or How to find value in fragmentary pots’.

Many of these pots were—unsuprisingly—late black figure Attic (Athenian) fragments, which fed into Prof. Smith’s presentation to UQ’s ancient history research seminar, on ‘The search for ancient Greek women at the feast’. The R.D. Milns Museum and perpetual endowment fund, which funded Amy’s visit, were created in large part with support from the Friends of Antiquity, a group of alumni, scholars and other teachers, who meet at UQ on a monthly basis to hear from local and international speakers. A highlight of Amy’s visit therefore was her public talk to the Friends of Antiquity, on Festival ware for Athenian women’. This and her ancient history seminar talk relate to research she’s preparing with Katerina Volioti (Roehampton) for a book to be published by University of Wisconsin. At her last public lecture, for something completely different, however, Prof. Smith spoke on ‘Hercules: dancing queen’, bringing together her research interests in Herakles, myth, & dance.

On her way to Queensland, Amy took time out of her NZ holiday to catch up with colleagues & collections in Auckland and Christchurch. The University of Canterbury in Christchurch has restored its James Logie Memorial Collection of antiquities, much of which was broken in their 2011 earthquake and redisplayed in the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities in UC’s Arts Centre, just around the corner of the Canterbury Museum and on the same block that the (jn)famous Wizard of New Zealand could be found during her visit.

Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia, flanked by statues of Sokrates & Diotima

After her travels to Western Australia, Amy found herself on the doorstep of University of Western Australia (UWA) in Perth where, as in Reading, Classics and Ancient History is ensconced in the School of Humanities. She was kindly welcomed to their Friday seminar, with excellent presentations of current work from two of their postgraduate students, while Emeritus Professor John Melville-Jones, a numismatist, regaled her with stories about ‘referential’ style of the University’s Hackett Buildings, graced even with busts of Sokrates and Diotima. And the next week Reading and UWA postgraduates come together in a conference and exhibition on Monsters: From ancient to modern. Stay tuned for the upcoming release of the Monsters video tour and the online exhibition!

Reading Classics in Omnibus

Temple of Apollo at CorinthThe research of two Reading colleagues is featured in this month’s Omnibus, the magazine of the Classical Association.  Now in its fortieth year and eightieth issue, the first edition of Omnibus came out in March 1981, and so it is also exactly the same age as one of its Reading contributors!

Professor Barbara Goff’s article on ‘Greek tragedy in a time of mass migration’ examines recent productions of Greek tragedy emerging from the Syrian civil war and the migrant crisis.  These include several different stagings of Sophocles’ Antigone, in which Syrian refugee participants had some very different ideas about who the characters of the play most resembled in their own lives and experiences.

In ‘Greeks, Egyptians and their languages in Ptolemaic Egypt,’ Professor Rachel Mairs looks at a court case from the second century BC involving two Egyptian women, named Taesis and Sachperis, who belonged to community of priests.  Taesis and Sachperis used all the resources at their disposal, including both the Egyptian and Greek languages, and two legal systems, to protect ownership of their property.

Fear in Ancient Culture

The 15th Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature 2020 University of Reading, Department of Classics
Monday 15th and Tuesday 16th of June 2020

The Department of Classics at the University of Reading is delighted to host the 15th Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature (AMPAL) in 2020. The theme for this year is Fear in Ancient Culture.

This year’s AMPAL includes a tour of the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, our departmental museum founded by Percy and Annie Ure. In addition to the museum’s permanent display, we are proud to present two temporary displays: the British Museum’s Spotlight loan on the theme of Helen and Achilles: beauty, heroism & the fall of Troy, and an inaugural student exhibit, Fear Beyond Words.

We are delighted to announce that the AMPAL 2020 Keynote Speech will be delivered by Professor Fiona McHardy (University of Roehampton). The speech will be open to all university members and the general public.

Fear is a driving force behind human action that can push people to exceed their own expectations or prevent them from acting at all. As a powerful motivator and emotion, fear has a pervasive presence in ancient life and thought, which is also reflected in literature in multiple ways relating among others to motivation, social interaction and power dynamics. Furthermore, as early as Aristotle’s Poetics, fear had already been understood as a ruling force and a powerful notion even for the construction of literary genres, especially of tragedy. While evaluating the ancient literature as an integral part of understanding such a concept, the diverse influences of different fields of study, such as literary criticism, political theory, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, can add valuable insights.

In this context, AMPAL 2020 invites presentations on fear from literary or interdisciplinary approaches. Questions as to how fear can be defined, who, how and why, causes fear, how fear is related to other aspects of ancient thought, how the sense of fear grows or fades, how this notion forms the interaction among humans or between mortals and gods,

and the role of language in the creation of a fearful or fear-free context, are all considered to be substantial aspects of this year’s theme.

Suggested topics on fear may include, but are not limited to:

  • Fear and literary criticism, meta-poetical or reception analysis
  • Fear and other emotions; fear disguised as other emotions; fear and the sense of respect; fear and related notions and experiences; fear and the five senses or other body reactions
  • Cognitive and behavioural approaches to fear, and emotions in general
  • Fear and the manipulation of memory
  • Fear and the construction of myth and heroic profiles or/and social or political identity
  • Fear and power play; the control of political dynamics; the promotion of political agendas and ideas
  • Psychoanalytical approaches to fear; gendered fear; fear as a significant aspect of rites; fear as anxiety
  • Fear of the other (Orientalism, Amazons etc.); philosophical approaches to fear; fear and the fundamental existential questions
  • Depictions and illustrations of fear in ancient art and material culture
  • Aspects, perceptions and depictions of fear in late antique and early Christian literature and thought; reception of the ancient concept of fear in early modern literature

The Department of Classics at Reading invites postgraduates of every level to submit an abstract of 250-300 words for a 20-minute paper followed by 10-minute discussion by the 21st of February 2020. Abstracts should be sent as an unnamed PDF to readingampal2020@reading.ac.uk. Please include your name, university affiliation, programme and year of study in the body of your email and not in the abstract.

AMPAL 2020 is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students in any relevant discipline as well as to the general public. Details on the registration fee, the conference dinner and other relevant procedures will be announced in due time. All welcome!

Further information on the exact location of the conference and other events attached to AMPAL 2020 can be found at its website.

Please keep an eye on AMPAL 2020 website and to AMPAL Facebook and Twitter for further announcements. Feel free to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and spread the word!

Ure researchers show Cyprus in 3D

Through the “Cyprus: 3D” project Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology researchers are highlighting the Ure’s Cypriot holdings and investigation their research and pedagogical value. From among its 100+ artefacts from this Mediterranean island, 19 terracotta figurines of the Kamelarga style from Kition have been chosen for this project. The figurines, which date from the Cypro-Archaic period (750-480 BC), represent worshipers holding food, animals, shields and musical instruments. Such figurines have been interpretedTraditionally as ex-votos, but the loss of their archaeological context leaves many questions yet to be answered.

We captured these figurines through photogrammetry to get virtual 3D models, which we later edited and 3D printed. We printed them in different textures, sizes and colours, as some of the original terracottas were found fragmented, with and without traces of paint, etc. Our goal was to encourage the handling of these replicas and to analyse our audience’s reactions. Cyprus: 3D was the common thread throughout our calendar of educational activities for 2018-2019: we have incorporated our figurines in many events to promote the collection as part of our outreach programme and audience development, in which older teenagers and families had the chance to play with our prints as a way to have a better understanding of Cypriot ancient culture. We encouraged responses from the participants with questions about what the figures looked like, who they might represent, what genders they might reflect, what each figure was carrying, with follow-on questions such as why they might be carrying these attributes.

Claudina Romero Mayorga

Learners from different backgrounds, ages and learning abilities engaged with our resources in similar ways: they overlooked the printing quality in some of the replicas and embraced the opportunity to touch and “play” with copies of fragile artefacts that are usually safeguarded inside our cases. The sense of touch provide us with a “tactile reality”, sensations capable of generating mental images that are important for communication, aesthetics and concept formation. Audience interpretations of the artefacts —in terms of gender, status, attributes, etc.—largely matching the theories of the excavators and scholars that have been studying Cypriot material for decades. Learners “played” with the replicas, allowing us to create different slow-motion animations that tried to evoke ancient rituals and behavioural patterns from a civilisation now long gone. With these animations #TheVotives, our team of Cypriote musicians, has developed quite a following on twitter.

 

[i] Calendar of activities in a slide

Research of Ure Museum intern acclaimed

Every year the Ure Museum welcomes and benefits from the work of several interns from around the world, other UK universities and even Reading. This week two of our interns from Summer 2019 were celebrated for their work in the Ure. At the 2019 UROP showcase last night Ruth Lloyd, a third-year student in Classics, was awarded Best Poster in the Heritage and Creativity theme, for her work on the biography of Annie Dunman Hunt Ure (1893-1976) on a paid internship through the University of Reading’s UROP scheme. Ruth’s poster moreover was one of two singled out for inclusion in a BCUR (British Conference of Undergraduate Research) event — Posters in Parliament — which brings together undergraduate students from universities across the UK to exhibit their research in Westminster. For her research Ruth worked with Ure staff and archives, University archives and conducted oral history with Ure’s family. Some of her research has already been incorporated into Annie’s Box, an interactive museum outreach project funded by The Friends of the University of Reading. We are delighted that through Ruth’s work our museum’s co-founder Annie Ure will finally have her day in Parliament!

Athens Study Trip 2019

I could not have hoped for a more fulfilling way to round off my Classics degree at Reading than participating in a study trip to Greece – one could almost call it a Classics student’s ‘pilgrimage’. I first visited Athens over a decade ago when my interests in the ancient world were just beginning and I remember being awed by its incredible landscape and architecture. I was thrilled therefore to finally have the opportunity to return to the city and appreciate its sites from a more informed perspective, as well as experience other places that were completely new to me. The whole expedition was enhanced greatly by the company of an enthusiastic cohort of fellow students and the ever-illuminating insights of Professor Amy Smith and her assistant James Lloyd.

On disembarking at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport, we were immediately struck by the glorious Athenian sunshine, which continued to blaze down on us throughout our stay. We then boarded a characterful, vibrantly purple coach that conveyed us to the British School at Athens (BSA), with the local driver offering us his essential tips on Modern Greek along the way. Having unpacked, we soon set off on our first excursion: Lykavittos hill (closely situated to the BSA), from the summit of which we experienced the most spectacular views of the city and whetted our cultural appetites for all that lay ahead. We also worked up appetites of a more gastronomic nature from all the walking, winding up the day by sharing a meal together in true Greek fashion at a local restaurant, getting to know each other better and sampling a wide range of traditional dishes – many of which were savoured again later in the week!

Each day’s schedule was tightly packed with visits to ancient sites and museums, and I could not possibly do everything justice in a single blog post. Yet I shall at least mention a few of my personal highlights. Firstly, no trip to Athens would be complete without journeying up to the famed Acropolis. It was fantastic to explore not only the iconic buildings on its upper surface, but also both the north slope, featuring some important caves and sanctuaries, and the sites to the south: after writing my final-year dissertation on Sophocles, I could hardly leave without paying homage to the Theatre of Dionysos, and James Lloyd even treated us here to an impromptu performance of an ancient Greek song. Another of my favourite attractions was the Temple of Hephaistos, beautifully situated in the Agora and amazingly well preserved. Further sites visited were the Kerameikos, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Roman Forum and Hadrian’s Library.

Of the museums, I was especially excited to visit the Acropolis Museum which was still being built during my previous trip. It certainly did not fail to impress. Its transparent walls and ideal location enabled us to look directly across at the Acropolis itself while admiring the displays, and so more easily envision everything in authentic context. One of the museum archaeologists, Dr Fiorentina Frangopoulou, helped us to understand the importance of the museum to the modern Greeks. In addition to the splendid array of statues and artefacts, I was particularly charmed by the imaginative lego reconstruction of the Acropolis on the second floor! The National Archeological Museum was also full of fascinating objects, including the famous ‘Mask of Agamemnon’ discovered by Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae. Among my personal favourites were a Cycladic harper figurine lost in song, an ancient piggy bank and a vase depicting a musical goose! In addition, I enjoyed the smaller yet equally absorbing Cycladic and Numismatic Museums.

We were fortunate to spend one of our days in Corinth, which included the highlight of the whole trip for me: visiting Acrocorinth, an enormous rock towering above the ancient city, rivalling even the Athenian Acropolis in its magnitude. Although most of the ruins at the top date from later, medieval times, the views it offers of the surrounding mountains, farmland and sea are simply breathtaking, giving the modern traveller a sense of how Greece would have appeared to its ancient inhabitants. Beautiful wildflowers, bees, butterflies and birdsong added magic to the landscape. On descending, we received excellent tours both of ancient Corinth and of its museum, from Drs Christopher Pfaff and Ioulia Tzonou of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Dr Tzonou even gave us a hands-on experience of artefacts, including a stone foot dedicated to Asklepios, the god of healing, and some lead curse tablets, which thankfully cast no calamities upon our trip! While journeying back to Athens, we had the chance to stop off at the site of the Isthmian games and also spotted the historic islands of Salamis and Aegina from the coach.

In addition to scheduled group outings, we had some free time to spend on whatever stirred our own individual interests. I particularly appreciated the further stunning panoramas available from Philopappou Hill and the Areopagus (which I made sure to ascend via the steeper, ancient steps!), and it was also enjoyable just to wander round and take in the atmosphere of some of Athens’ more touristy areas such as Plaka, with its pretty winding streets and rows of shops. Above all, I loved being surrounded by Greek lettering wherever I went: I had great fun trying to decipher signs and inscriptions.

As a lover of the animal world, I could not conclude without mentioning the thirteen hoopoes I spotted during our stay (one of my favourite birds and very apt in terms of Greek mythology). We also fell in love with the numerous tortoises we found chilling out amid the ancient ruins, as well as the free-roaming dogs, cats and kittens which did their very best to distract us from our primary mission!

I cannot thank the Classics Department enough for giving me this wonderful opportunity at the end of my undergraduate journey, as well as the BSA for hosting us. I would certainly encourage other students to embark on future study trips (…though do be prepared to walk … a lot!).

Katherine Evans